I knew I was an addict for quite some time; I also wanted to quit for nearly a year and a half. I would manage to stay sober through cognitive behavioral therapy and would always relapse. Sometimes I could string together a month, two months, heck I even managed to get nine months, but I consistently ended up using again. Time would go by, and I’d rationalize my way into using, typically with some rule attached, and before you knew it, I was back into daily usage once again. I’ve demonstrated so much self-control in other areas of my life, why can’t I seem to get a grip on addiction? Why can’t I either use in moderation or quit indefinitely?
Now at five years sober, I’m aware of what has worked for me. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery so the answer to “how to stay sober?” is going to vary per individual. The purpose of this post is to share my subjective experience with recovery.
How to Stay in Addiction
There were several roadblocks which kept me in my addiction. It’s hard to say if any particular one stands out as more limiting than the next. What does stand out is the fear of change that closed a lot of doors. Even the idea of giving up my daily routine of going to work, getting home, using until I passed out, repeat was unacceptable. It wasn’t that I liked the way I was living, but it was comfortable. I held on to the certainty of my misery which I found to be more comfortable than the uncertainty of change.
The inherent need to control was also present. As an adolescent, I disdained the feeling that my parents had control over me which led to a rebellious nature, as an adult that feeling returned but instead of my parents having power over me it was the substances I was abusing. I refused to accept they had control and went through a ton of trial and error before reaching acceptance that once I put drugs in my body, I’m imminently off to the races. Even when I would get away with it, that would merely encourage more experimentation until I would inevitably fall.
I had to face my greatest fear – change along with giving up control over my own life to stay sober. While every thought process I had combated this approach to recovery, looking back it was necessary. Granted, it got easier over-time. Now, five years sober, I find I’m much more embracing of change and living life on life’s terms.
How to Stay Sober
I didn’t give up my need to control or fear to change. I fought it. It was an interpersonal civil war where everything in my mind was saying, “NO!” but I still put myself through the motions. I was willing to do whatever it took to stay clean another 24 hours. As cliche’ a solution as it may feel, I put my life in the hands of the social worker, the counselor, the fellowship I found in support group meetings. While this statement may feel “cliche'” should it? Trusting your life in the hands of professionals or people who have managed to stay sober from a similar addiction should sound like common sense. But it didn’t feel that way, it felt wrong. It was a constant deliberate effort that left me drained.
My counselor would give me “advise” on how to stay sober and I would take action. Before, I would leave the advice as just advice and not do anything about it. A lot of the advise contradicted the belief system I manifested to protect my addiction. The prior belief system was to be dishonest, steal, play the victim, isolate, etc. so I could continue using without feeling guilty about it. Now my counselor is telling me to do the direct opposite this belief system I’ve nurtured for the past seven years?
It was difficult.
However, over-time the actions that required deliberate effort became a habit. Being honest, embracing change, letting go of my inherent need to control others along with a lot of resentment became my newfound normal. The deliberate actions I forced my self into became a habit, and as a result, my thought process and lifestyle adapted to my habits. I didn’t have to combat with my mind to make amends. It’s just what I did. Also, the long-term gratification of doing the next right thing contributed to a life full of opportunity and healthy relationships. Because my thinking and surroundings changed drastically, using substances to escape was unnecessary and quickly perceived as foolish. Sure, I’ll never say with a straight face smoking meth isn’t desirable, but the desire is something I don’t entertain. Because of this, if I’m ever triggered, I nearly instantly dismiss the idea of using long before it becomes an obsession.
When Did it Get Better?
When I look back at my recovery, I would say around six months sober is when I stopped entertaining the idea to use drugs. I imagine this process only taking six months is due to the amount of action I took. If I had just removed the substances and sat in my room all day, I certainly would have prolonged my misery to the point abusing substances would have seemed like a good idea. That’s how to get sober, but I know now it isn’t how to stay sober for myself. But I took action; I kept doing the next right thing, I trusted counselors and others with long-term sobriety, I did something different this time. Rather than making things complicated by allowing my self-destructive belief system to get involved in my recovery, I let go. It was challenging to let go. It felt as if I was killing a component of who I am. However, it was simple. There was no complicating my way around it. I just had to walk through it.
Hopefully, this helps you in your discovery process of how to stay sober.
Philip Markoff (Associate of Science) is an online influencer and thought leader on addiction education; he is known as his alias “CG Kid” who’s obtained a large audience primarily on YouTube as a vlogger and journalist. His current sobriety date from polysubstance chemical dependency is June 9th, 2013.